Saints’ defensive coordinator Spagnuolo relieved of duties

The Saints announced Thursday that first-year defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and secondary cach Ken Flajole have been relieved of their duties with the team.

“I personally want to thank Steve and Ken for their contributions during what was an unprecedented 2012 season,” Saints coach Sean Payton said in a statement released by the team. “Philosophically, we are changing our defense to a 3-4 alignment and right now is the best time to accomplish this transition.”

Saints’ Payton officially back on the job

MOBILE, Ala. — Saints coach Sean Payton, reinstated Tuesday by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell from his season-long bounty suspension, was back at work Wednesday morning.

Payton arrived at Ladd-Peebles Stadium just before 9:30 a.m. to take in the morning Senior Bowl practice, trailing General Manager Mickey Loomis and assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt into the stadium by about five minutes.

Payton, walking alone with a cup of coffee in his hand, walked through the gates of the stadium and past a row of about six television cameras without stopping to speak Payton is scheduled to meet with reporters after the North team practice concludes at 11:30 a.m.

Payton walked up the ramps of the stadium and eventually made his way to the section occupied by Loomis and Vitt as well as members of the coaching staff and the player personnel department.

After greeting Loomis and Vitt as well as the coaches and scouts in the team’s contingent with  round of hearty handshakes, Payton settled in to watch the North team’s workout.

The South team will practice Wednesday afternoon.

Saints tackle Jermon Bushrod going back to Pro Bowl

Saints tackle Jermon Bushrod will take part in his second consecutive Pro Bowl game next week after he was named to the NFC all-star squad on Sunday.

Bushrod was a first alternate when fans, coaches and players cast their ballots lst month, but he took one of three tackle spots in place of San Francisco 49ers tackle Joe Staley after the 49ers earned a spot in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday.

Bushrod, a six-year veteran, was a primary selection to last year’s NFC-AFC all-star game. He joins three teammates — punter Thomas Morstead, guard Jahri Evans and quarterback Drew Brees — in the contest.

This season, Bushrod started all 16 games at left tackle for the third year in a row and anchored an offensive line that surrendered only 26 sacks — tied for the third-lowest total in the league. The Saints led the NFL in passing yards and finished second in the league in total yards.

Saints lose offensive line coach Kromer to Bears

When he returns to work, likely the day after Super Bowl XLVII, suspended Saints coach Sean Payton will have to start by filling in at least one hole in his coaching staff.

Saints offensive line coach/running game coordinator Aaron Kromer on Wednesday joined the staff of new Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman, whose hiring was announced earlier that morning.

Kromer, who’ll be the Bears’ offensive coordinator/offensive line coach, and Trestman worked together with the Oakland Raiders from 2001-03 when Trestman was the offensive coordinator there.

Kromer posted a 2-4 record as the Saints interim coach when interim coach Joe Vitt was serving a bounty suspension for the first six games of the season. Kromer joined Payton’s staff in 2008.

After coaching running backs in 2008, Kromer took over the offensive line in 2009. That year, he coached a group that won the Madden Most Valuable Protectors Award as the league’s top offensive line when the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV. They also won the Madden Award in 2011.

In his time working with the offensive line, Kromer had two players — guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks — named first-team All-Pro with Evans earning that honor this season for the fourth straight time.

Kromer also had five Pro Bowl players — Evans, Nicks, center Jonathan Goodwin, and tackles Jermon Bushrod and Jon Stinchcomb — with nine invites between them from 2009-12.

Saints sign four more players to futures contracts

The Saints have signed four more players to futures contracts for next season, bring their total to nine so far this offseason.

The latest to sign are wide receiver Preston Parker, defensive end Jay Richardson, linebacker Austin Johnson and cornerback Dion Turner.

Parker played in 27 games with Tampa Bay from 2010-12 and Richardson played in 55 games with Oakland and Seattle from 2007-10.

Johnson and Turner have no previous NFL regular-season experience although Turner was on Miami’s practice squad for the final three weeks of the season.

The Saints last week signed five players who finished the season on their practice squad to futures contracts.

All five — defensive end Braylon Broughton, wide receivers Jarred Fayson and Andy Tanner, guard Ryan Lee and cornerback Ryan Steed — were signed to two-year deals.

Saints’ offense led NFL in big plays, long touchdown drives

The Saints didn’t set an NFL record for most total yards as they did in 2011, but they did lead the league in long touchdown drives for the second year in a row.

The Saints had 29 touchdown drives of 80 yards or longer in their 7-9 season, with the New England Patriots and Detroit Lions tying for second with 25 each. The Saints had 28 drives of that length that results in TDs in 2011.

Drew Brees and his offensive teammates also led the NFL in big plays, which is defined as a run or pass of 20 yards or longer, and in big passes.

They had a total of 76 big plays, one more than the Carolina Panthers, and 65 big passes, one more than the Indianapolis Colts.

SAINTS HONOR MOORE: Wide receiver Lance Moore has been chosen the Saints 2012 Man of the Year, which makes him a candidate for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

The Man of the Year Award is given to one player from each league team for volunteerism and charity work as well as excellence on the field. From the 32 team winners, three players will be chosen as finalists for the Walter Payton Award — which will be presented during Super Bowl week.

Since joining the Saints as a free agent, the seven-year veteran has been an asset in the New Orleans area and Gulf Coast through numerous endeavors — most notably the Lance Moore Community Cares Program.

The program helps people help themselves and those around them with the goal of leading productive and satisfying lives while serving disadvantaged children and families in need of financial and educational assistance.

MORSTEAD SETS CLUB MARK: Punter Thomas Morstead, a four-year veteran, fell short of setting the NFL season record for net punting average in the season finale, but finished with a franchise-record gross average of 50.1 yards per punt.

Morstead is one of only seven punters in NFL history to average at least 50 yards per kick for an entire season. One of the others, Miami’s Brandon Fields, edged Morstead for the league title at 50.2 yards per punt.

Morstead, who will be the NFC punter in the Pro Bowl on Jan. 27, is only the third Saints’ punter to earn a spot in the all-star game. The others were Brian Hansen (1984) and Mitch Berger (2004).

BREES UP FOR HONOR: Saints quarterback Drew Brees is one of five finalists for the GMC Never Say Never Moment of the Year Award for 2012.

Brees earned a spot as a finalist for his Week 5 performance in a 31-24 win over the San Diego Chargers when he broke the NFL record of Johnny Unitas with at least one touchdown pass in 48 consecutive games.

Unitas held the record of 47 games in a row with at least one TD for more than half a century until Brees set the mark with a 40-yard scoring pass to former LSU standout Devery Henderson in the first quarter.

Fans can vote online at https://www.nfl.com/gmc until Jan. 24 at 8 p.m. to determine the winner, which will be announced during the NFL Honors awards special on Feb. 2 — the night before Super Bowl XLVII.

STRIEF A ‘GOOD GUY’: Tackle Zach Strief is this year’s winner of the Jim Finks Good Guy Award, which is presented to a Saints’ player by members of the New Orleans chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America.

The award is given to a player for media cooperation throughout the season. In a vote of reporters who cover the team, Strief, who’s always accessible in the locker room and provides thoughtful and insightful answers to questions, outdistanced tackle Jermon Bushrod and linebacker Curtis Lofton for the honor.

The award is named for former Saints General Manager Jim Finks. Prior to his death in 1994, Finks was Finks was known around the league for his cooperation with the media.

NFL playoff chat with Advocate sportswriter Les East and Sheldon Mickles

Saints to have 15th pick in first round of NFL draft

The Saints are scheduled to have a pick in the top half of the first round of the NFL draft this spring for the first time since 2009 when they select 15th.

The Saints, who finished 7-9 this season, were in a five-way tie for the 11th-worst mark in the league. But they were pushed to the bottom of that group — which also includes San Diego, Miami, Tampa Bay and Carolina — on the strength-of-schedule tiebreaker.

Saints’ opponents this season posted a 133-122-1 record for a .521 winning percentage.

San Diego (.457 opponents’ winning percentage) got the 11th pick, followed by Miami (.500), Tampa Bay (.502) and Carolina (.516).

The Saints’ last pick in the top half of the first round was free safety Malcolm Jenkins, who was taken with the 14th overall selection in 2009 after the Saints went 8-8 in 2008.

The draft will be held April 25-27 in New York City.

SAINTS SIGN FIVE: The Saints have signed five players who finished the season on their practice squad to futures contracts.

All five — defensive end Braylon Broughton, wide receivers Jarred Fayson and Andy Tanner, guard Ryan Lee and cornerback Ryan Steed — were signed to two-year deals.

CALENDAR UPDATED: The NFL has released an updated calendar for the 2013 league year, which will begin on Tuesday, March 12 at 3 p.m. CST with the start of veteran free agency.

For the first time, at least officially anyway, teams will have a three-day window from March 9-11 in which they can negotiate with certified agents of players who will be unrestricted free agents.

Other key dates are the deadline for college underclassmen to declare for the draft (Jan. 15), the scouting combine (Feb. 20-26) and the deadline for teams to make qualifying offers to restricted free agents (March 12).

Saints sign five practice squad players to futures contracts

The Saints have signed five players who finished the season on their practice squad to futures contracts.

All five — defensive end Braylon Broughton, wide receivers Jarred Fayson and Andy Tanner, guard Ryan Lee and cornerback Ryan Steed — were signed to two-year deals.

Saints to pick 15th in first round of NFL draft this spring

The Saints are scheduled to have a pick in the top half of the first round of the NFL draft this spring for the first time since 2009 when they select 15th.

The Saints, who finished 7-9 this season, were in a five-way tie for the 11th-worst mark in the league. But they were pushed to the bottom of that group — which also includes San Diego, Miami, Tampa Bay and Carolina — on the strength-of-schedule tiebreaker.

Saints’ opponents this season posted a 133-122-1 record for a .521 winning percentage.

San Diego (.457 opponents’ winning percentage) got the 11th pick, followed by Miami (.500), Tampa Bay (.502) and Carolina (.516).

The Saints’ last pick in the top half of the first round was free safety Malcolm Jenkins, who was taken with the 14th overall selection in 2009 after the Saints went 8-8 in 2008.

The draft will be held April 25-27 in New York City.